Album: Funnel Cloud
Label: Nettwerk Records
Review By: Jacob Gehman
Hem has released a lot of music over the past six or so years, starting with their debut, "Rabbit Songs." There have been full length albums, EPs, and b-side/live compilations. "Funnel Cloud" is their 3rd studio full length. If you look at the albums chronologically there has been great growth from album one to album two, "Eveningland." It still felt like the same band, but a much better version. The differences, however, between their second attempt and this, their third, are much more miniscule.
The constant to Hem's appeal rests in the lap of Sally Ellyson, their lead vocalist. Her vocals are strong yet textured. They guide the music through it's folk/pop twists and branches, giving some songs a strong country drawl, and making others into lush lullabies. It is a voice that any connoisseur of great female singing can appreciate. She is hands down the reason that people continue to purchase Hem albums. The other seven members of Hem are talented at conjuring a proper musical carpet to show off Ellyson's singing. They lay it down and she breathes the life into the songs. The instrumentation doesn't venture too far from expectations, there is no confusing Hem for anything but what they are.
Music that doesn't throw any surprises is in danger of being boring. Some of Hem's past songs have succumbed to that beast. Some of the songs on this album do, too. Songs that cause people to state patronizingly, "That was nice." Which is generally the last phrase a band is looking for. After all, "That was nice," will mean that the song didn't make the listener feel anything or think anything or challenge them in any way. Unfortunately, a few of those songs are present here. Ellyson's vocals keeps the music from being unpleasant, but there isn't anything to some of the songs.
Those tracks are more in the minority, however. The better percentage of the tracks manage to create a sense of anticipation or mystery, or just generally stir feelings in some way. Which is why a song like "Funnel Cloud" (track four) is captivating as we journey through the song's details and moods. And in the end the journey won't be regretted.